My favourite time of day at Lake Tekapo was as the sun came up. The light was soft as it spread across the mountains and the calm water. Past the forest of trees, the blue water gently lapped at the grey pebbles lining the shore. There were only faint sounds of people waking up in the adjacent campground – sounds of tents flapping open and the hum of voices. There was no one by the lake in the early morning and I had the shore all to myself as I watched the sun brightening the sky.

New Zealand is blessed with photogenic lakes all around the South Island and Lake Tekapo is definitely one of them. Lake Tekapo is one of the South Island’s glacial lakes and is located north of Queenstown and a couple of hours drive west of Christchurch. When the sun hits Lake Tekapo, it shines a brilliant turquoise colour due to rock flour – finely ground glacial rock particles that glow brilliant blue in sunlight.

I used Lake Tekapo as a base to see Mt Cook but it’s also a stop in its own right if you’re after a few peaceful days lakeside.

What are the top things to do at Lake Tekapo?

  • Lake Tekapo is a popular place to see the stars as there’s minimal light pollution and there are excursions offered at night from the Mt John Observatory.
  • If you’re looking for a place to stargaze for free, head over to the Church of the Good Shepherd.
  • You can hike up to Mt John in about an hour for a good view over Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie Country, however, there’s no access after dark due to observatory tours.
  • Another attraction is the Alpine Springs and Spa – unfortunately not heated by thermal waters and rather just a heated pool – but they do have a good location above the lake and fit into the whole relaxation theme here. Cost of entry to the pools is £14. There’s also a small water park in the complex.
  • If you don’t mind swimming in 10 degree water, you can also opt for a dip in Lake Tekapo.

Where to stay at Lake Tekapo?

For a small town, Lake Tekapo offers quite a few accommodation options for backpackers – there’s a campground, the Lakefront Backpackers, a YHA Hostel and the Lake Tekapo Village Motel which has private rooms with shared bathrooms or dorms. The campground is by the lake and offers a kitchen, barbeques and picnic tables overlooking the lake.

The summer months are busy in Lake Tekapo and the lakeside beds fill up quick so I ended up with a dorm bed at the Lake Tekapo Village Motel. It’s not right on the lake but still has views across it. Dorms and private rooms with shared bathrooms are grouped together and the small complex also contains a good-sized kitchen.

Places to visit near Lake Tekapo

Christchurch and Akaroa

From Lake Tekapo, you can continue onto Christchurch and Akaroa in a couple of hours. I was spending the night in Christchurch so took a detour and headed to Akaroa for a few hours. Akaroa is on a peninsula formed by volcanic eruptions. It’s a beautiful but winding drive down to the seaside town along Summit Road. From about 30 minutes away, you’ll start getting panoramic views of the water and the mountains – but be careful of cars suddenly pulling off to stop and take photos. Akaroa was New Zealand’s first French settlement. There are a number of restaurants reflecting Akaroa’s French history and a number of streets have French names.

The town is very small but does have several active excursions on offer as well as more relaxed ones – but probably one night is all you need to enjoy what the town has to offer. Tours offered include hiking, kayaking, and cycling down the hills formed by the volcano. There are also boat trips around the coastline to spot Hector’s Dolphins – the world’s smallest dolphin which is only found in New Zealand waters.

From Akaroa, it’s about a bit over an hour’s drive up to Christchurch. While Christchurch has been rocked by a number of earthquakes in the past, it’s worth a look if only to support the recovery of this city and see the efforts made to rebuild Christchurch. Yes, the city centre is a bit of a ghost town full of vacant lots and condemned buildings, but don’t let that scare you off - there is certainly a lot of effort being made to inject life back into the centre. Cathedral Square was once the centrepiece of Christchurch but now the cathedral remains barricaded off and what’s left is held up by supports, but indulge your tastebuds here by grabbing a bite to eat from the food trucks. A number of food trucks are gathered here daily offering anything from banh mi to German sausages to churros. There’s a range of cuisines on offer and the food I tasted hit the spot and was reasonably priced.

The city centre is also an interesting wander to take in the street art and public spaces. There’s striking street art spread all throughout the city centre, and a number of public spaces have been populated with art pieces. You’ll also come across some trendy bars in between the vacant lots.

If you’re looking for clothing, books or knick knacks, head along to the Re:Start Container Mall – a boutique mall area built from shipping containers. Another attraction in the Christchurch area is the International Antarctic Centre, located near the airport.

For accommodation with a twist, stay at Jailhouse Backpackers – about a 20 minute walk from Cathedral Square through a tree-lined pathway in Hagley Park, and along the Avon River. Jailhouse Backpackers is in the old Addington Jail, which was built in 1874. The jail was closed in 1999 when it was decided to place prisons outside of Christchurch’s city boundaries. The jail’s Mountfort cell block and part of the perimeter walls remain on the site. Staff are all ‘wardens’ and your room is in a renovated cell. Beds are large and very comfortable with a shelf and powerpoint by the bed. There’s also plenty of space in the room for your bags. The hostel has a well-equipped kitchen and a common area out the front. The “wardens” are very helpful and have lots of information about activities in the area.

Things you should know about visiting New Zealand:

  • Much of Christchurch’s city centre has been demolished or buildings condemned, but don’t let that put you off. There’s still a number of public spaces to explore – and it’s often one of the cheaper places to fly into to start your New Zealand adventure.
  • Lake Tekapo accommodation can fill up quickly in the summertime, so try and book ahead.
  • If the accommodation at Mt Cook Village is full, Lake Tekapo is a good base to explore the area. Mt Cook is an hour’s drive from Lake Tekapo.
  • Mt John has great views of the Lake Tekapo area and is a great spot for stargazing, but you can only hike up there in the daytime. But if you want to get your stargazing fix, book a tour to the Mt John Observatory, or walk down to the Church of the Good Shepherd.
  • You can go for a cruise to seek out Hector’s Dolphins – the world’s smallest dolphin found only in New Zealand waters – in the sleepy town of Akaroa.
  • Take care on the road to and from Akaroa. It can get foggy in the area and it’s a narrow, winding road in some places. Tourists also tend to pull off suddenly to take in the view so watch out.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 80 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.